Celebrated humorist Erma Bombeck ’49 made the foibles of everyday family life her beat. “My idea of housework,” she infamously wrote, “is to sweep the room with a glance.”
That’s why she might get a kick out of the essays in Laugh Out Loud: 40 Women Humorists Celebrate Then and Now…Before We Forget, a nostalgic, humorous look at life through the ages.
“The stories in this book reflect a philosophy she always believed: If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it,” daughter Betsy Bombeck writes in the preface.
As the founder and director of the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, I’ve encouraged writers for years to find the courage to put their words down on paper, even publish a book.
Yet when prolific author Allia Zobel Nolan approached me about collaborating on a book, I worried about whether we could find the time and discipline to solicit essays, edit the pieces and publish an anthology, all within six months. With the ink barely dry on the first copies, we introduced the book in April at the spring workshop, with half the essayists in attendance for a book signing. Last week, we launched the ebook. Part of the proceeds benefits the workshop’s endowment fund.
One of the contributors has written eight books. Others have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other national and regional publications. A few, like Fritzy Dean, an 82-year-old great grandmother, have never seen their work published in a book.
“Erma Bombeck put women’s humor on the map,” said Nolan, a former senior editor for Reader’s Digest, who has written more than 175 books herself and shepherded this book from concept to creation. “She was to housewives what Spock was to babies. She held up a mirror to her life, burst out laughing, then sat down and chronicled it for millions to enjoy. We hope this book makes readers feel the same way.”
From the beach to bookstores to bars, readers have posted photos of where they’re reading Laugh Out Loud. One was spotted at a “Leprechaun Crossing” outside Dublin; another at the Motor City Comic Con in Michigan. The oldest reader: 93. The youngest: a toddler.
“When humor goes,” Erma wrote, “there goes civilization.”No Comments
Father Kip Stander, S.M. ’73, has served at St. Mary’s University as well as in Kenya and India and, for the last three years, at UD as the University chaplain. We asked him what that entails.
I ask the question, “How did the two of you meet?”
And they answer, “We were involved in a service project our sophomore year. We developed a friendship, dated and grew in our relationship. And here we are today — preparing to get married!”
As I meet with couples, I am invited into special moments in their lives — a blessed aspect of my ministry at UD.
It is a privilege to serve in a position that puts me in touch with UD people at important times in their lives. My specific role is to offer sacramental ministry (Mass, reconciliation) and spiritual guidance to students, a ministry that extends to faculty, staff, alumni and parents.
I interact with them as they graduate, marry, grieve, suffer illness, manage transitions in life, discern the future. This engages, challenges and humbles me.
On campus, our Eucharistic celebration — whether on an evening in a residence hall or a Sunday in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception — is centered on the presence of Christ in word, sacrament and community. We gather to pray and go forth to live God’s message.
At the baccalaureate Masses, as students prepare to go forth from UD, we rejoice with them and their families at the opportunities, the support and the growth that led to this special day.
I meet with many alumni as they return to UD to celebrate their weddings. Often the couple has wonderful stories of career and challenge and commitment.
In time of illness or loss, I am also called upon. Offering support and prayer is both demanding and a grace-filled moment. The individual and family and friends often experience the fragility of life and the prospect of drastic changes in plans and hopes and dreams. In such a troubled and uncertain time, I try to bring witness to faith and community.
I am blessed to minister in this gifted community.No Comments
Having attended at least one — and sometimes two or three — commencement ceremonies every year for the past 30 years, and having heard at least one — and sometimes two or three (or four!) — speeches at each of those ceremonies, I consider myself something of a commencement speech connoisseur about what works, what doesn’t, what is memorable, and what isn’t.
I have heard government officials from President Bill Clinton to Chief Justice John Roberts, entertainers from Billy Joel to Aaron Sorkin, media mavens from Bob Woodruff to Donald New- house, and even from the master wordsmith himself, Bill Safire (twice).
Among all these speeches — including the six or eight speeches I myself have given — the single most compelling charge to graduating students came from civil rights leader and master orator Thomas Nathaniel Todd.
His charge — his challenge, in fact — is more fitting for graduates from the University of Dayton than any other college or university, in my opinion. And it is more fitting now than at any other time in our nation’s history.
At spring commencement, I shared his words as a challenge to the Class of 2018:
“Do not use your degree just to make a living. Use your degree to make a difference.”
This is the responsibility a UD diploma carries with it. Our alumni know that. Our alumni live that. As our newly minted graduates leave the comfort zone of campus, they’re entering a world hungry for their gifts.
Our world is hungry for innovative solutions for closing the growing gap between the rich and the poor.
Our world is hungry for imaginative ways for improving a public education system that fails too many students and families.
Our world is hungry for the responsible, moral harnessing of technology to improve our lives.
Our world is hungry for respectful dialogue and behavior, for hearts that reject bigotry, and eyes that look with empathy and compassion on all people as children of God.
As I looked out over the sea of joyous faces at the University of Dayton Arena, I saw more than the largest graduating class in our history.
I glimpsed the future.
After living and learning at our Catholic, Marianist university with its dedication to social justice, with its special focus on building community, with its commitment to preparing students to work across differences, these graduates will enter the world prepared to change it.
They will make more than just a living. They will make a difference.No Comments
How do we quiet our minds in an increasingly noisy world?
This is a question Joe Oliveri sought to answer when he created the minicourse The Silent Journey, taught this past spring.
As a graduate assistant in Campus Ministry, Oliveri said he noticed students often telling him how busy their days were, and how the lack of time for silence in their daily lives was affecting their ability to be present in the moment and connect with God.
“Nine times out of 10 if you ask anyone how their day is going, they will answer, ‘Busy.’ This is the noise of the daily life of a college student,” Oliveri said.
In search of answers, he created The Silent Journey to fulfill a requirement in his graduate studies in pastoral ministry.
The group met once a week on Mondays for two hours during Lent. Over the course of their six weeks together, the group took part in contemplative prayer where they meditated on the five silences of Marianist spirituality: silences of words, signs, imagination, mind and passions. These silences, he explained, are about disciplining one’s whole being.
“In short, the five silences are not always to ‘be quiet’ but ways to discipline our words, actions, thoughts, feelings or passions, and imagination in order to live fully in Jesus Christ,” Oliveri said.
He explained that both he and his students struggled throughout the course, finding it difficult to make time for silence as a part of their daily routine. Ultimately, they learned that prayer was more than just silence or lack of words, but it was about becoming more aware of God’s presence.
For those who were not able to take his class or are just looking for ways to find silence in their own lives, Oliveri offered some advice.
“Without picturing me as an old monk on a hillside, I would say, ‘You don’t need to find silence. Let silence find you.’ Yes, it’s deep, but that’s what we are afraid of — going deep,” Oliveri said.No Comments
Father Daniel Reehil ’87 will tell you his path to priesthood wasn’t necessarily a pretty one.
“Me and my classmates, we are a part of the first generation to be constantly bombarded by images and sounds,” Reehil said. “Living in all that noise is the biggest threat to people’s faith in 2018.”
In the late ’90s, Reehil was in the thick of the noise. He was working as a sales director for a major public relations firm on Wall Street, but he was depressed and suffering from the same nightmare every night.
A friend asked him to go with her to the town of Medjugorje, a popular site of Catholic pilgrimage, because she was nervous about traveling to Bosnia alone. Reehil happened to be renting a villa in Italy just across the Adriatic Sea from Medjugorje at the time, and he thought, how different could it be?
“I thought it would be like a vacation,” Reehil said. “It wasn’t. There were no hotels there at that time. You stayed in the homes of the people who lived there.
There were certainly no TVs or anything like that. In fact, there wasn’t even a whole lot of heat.”
But there was definitely a lot of faith. Every day the entire town (a couple of thousand people) attended Mass together.
“It inspired me to go to confession for the first time in 20 years. When I was finished, the priest told me he thought I was being called. Frankly, I thought he hadn’t understood my English that well.”
Twenty years later, as pastor of St. Edward Parish in Nashville, Tennessee, Reehil is fired up about fighting the noise.
“People tell me that they don’t know how to pray,” said Reehil. “Well, first you have to unplug for at least 20 minutes. Prayer needs to be all consuming. Contemplative. I wish everyone could share in that.”No Comments
On April 4, 2018, eyes will turn to Memphis, Tennessee, to remember the tragic event that occurred 50 years prior and the legacy left by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., known as our nation’s great peacemaker. It occurred at the Lorraine Motel, now the location of the National Civil Rights Museum.
Terri Lee Freeman ’81 is president of the museum in Memphis, where she lives with her husband and youngest daughter. Freeman said she believes our country is at a pivotal point in history, and change is on the horizon.
“The legacy that Dr. King left us compels us to work with those people who are not necessarily of the same mindset and to communicate with those people and find a way to stem some of the personal biases we have. Because ultimately, it’s about creating human relationships,” Freeman said.
The communication major, who previously served as the president of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region (aka Greater Washington Community Foundation), said she feels the country is more polarized than it’s ever been and worries that people are becoming rigid and inflexible in not wanting to understand opposing viewpoints or ideals.
She said she hopes her work at the museum helps visitors gain insight into another time in history when the nation was at odds with itself, to emphasize how important it is that people learn to work together, with respect and compassion, to achieve positive social change.
“I think that what is happening right now, both politically and culturally in this country, is not just a moment. I do believe it’s a movement,” she said.
Yet, as she looks at millennials and centennials, she said she is inspired.
“These young people are really engaged. They are a lot more informed about what’s going on than I was at their age. So, I’m optimistic.”No Comments
As free-speech battles play out on college campuses, in the public square and on social media, some may view engaging in respectful, civil dialogue and carefully listening to opposing viewpoints as a lost art.
I would say we’re reclaiming it at the University of Dayton, but, truthfully, it’s always been part of our fabric. It’s certainly a skill graduates need in today’s complex world.
The Marianists, many of whom live among the students in the neighborhoods, know that better than anyone else. They teach us daily how to value the dignity of every person.
Our communication professors who teach a nationally significant Communication 100 course to all undergraduates know that, too. (See story, Page 36.) In the class, students learn how to have meaningful conversations with others who hold different perspectives — all with the goal of understanding each other better.
Alumnus Timothy Shaffer ’06, who is assistant director of the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy at Kansas State and recently edited a book about the use of dialogue and deliberation, also knows that. As a UD graduate student, he created a class in deliberation that found its way to the program at the Stander Symposium and helped launch his life’s work.
And I know that. When I read this issue’s “Let’s Talk” feature story, I’m heartened by the myriad ways we bring our students together to converse (which implies both speaking and listening) and build bridges across differences. We’re even considering developing a dialogue landing zone in Roesch Library, providing space for conversations on tough issues.
Last year, when a controversy erupted on campus over a student art project, the Student Government Association immediately organized a discussion. As I sat in the back of the room and listened to the challenging but respectful conversation, I grew more proud of our students by the minute. Rather than talking at each other, they engaged in dialogue — with respect, thoughtfulness and a desire to understand another person’s point of view. As a campus community, we didn’t shy away from having a difficult conversation.
The Marianists call that “staying at the table.” I call it courageous conversations.
It’s just what our world needs.No Comments
We asked former UD students to tell us about the impact retired faculty and staff have had on their lives. Here are four stories about how retires continue to inspire. Read more on their lives as retirees in the Summer 2018 UD Magazine story “Happy Retirement.”
It took just one water wiggle for Amy Marcotte ’03 to remember her time as a mechanical engineering major at the University of Dayton, specifically the mechanical design classes she took from professor Phil Doepker ’64. Marcotte’s daughter brought home the slippery blue plastic toy filled with glittery water and Marcotte was reminded of the water wiggles Doepker used to bring to class.
“[He emphasized] the ability to look past the toy and focus on the ability to move something through it without friction,” Marcotte said, describing how Doepker, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who retired in 2011, used the toy to explain laparoscopic medical devices.
Marcotte noted that she’s not sure how many people think of their mechanical engineering professor when their kid brings home a specific toy, but Doepker was never just a mechanical engineering professor.
“I will not hesitate to say that Phil Doepker was a professor that changed the lives of his students,” Marcotte said. “His astronomical passion for teaching and industry gave him the edge needed to influence others to change the world through engineering innovations.”
Sixteen years later, Marcotte still keeps in contact with her past professor, and said that the respect she has for him only increased after graduation.
In an office in the Kettering Labs, on a shelf among other belongings, is a framed cover of The New Yorker from 1998. This is the office of Becky Blust ’87, associate professor in the School of Engineering and direct of the Innovation Center.
The cover was a gift from Carroll Schleppi — first professor to, then colleague of Blust. It featured a nursing mother, something that was rare to see in public in the ’90s. To Blust, a rarity is the perfect representation of Schleppi herself.
“Carroll is very much a feminist,” Blust said. “She is very conscious of women’s rights issues and always has that in the forefront.”
From the first time Blust took a class with Schleppi, she liked the idea of having a strong female faculty member that was very good at her profession, mathematics, from which to learn.
In addition to womanhood, Schleppi was intense in all facets, something that Blust said helped shape her.
“Carroll was tough,” Blust said. “She set the tone for the rest of my college career. It was evident I wasn’t in high school anymore.”
After 12 years working in the industry, Blust was asked to come back to UD and apply for a position as professor. Schleppi was among the first to welcome her.
Blust continues to keep in contact with Schleppi today, still looking to her as a beacon to guide her through life when she needs it.
“She understands where I’m at right now, because she’s been there,” Blust said. “I can confide in her. If she gives me advice and I don’t take it, it isn’t offensive to her, and she will still counsel me the same after that.”
From professor, to colleague, to friend Schleppi has continued to be there for Blust throughout all of life’s trials.
Whether Alex Galluzzo ’12 knew it or not, his future began to happen when he joined the Rivers Institute at UD. As a River Steward, Galluzzo was one of the few business majors in a program that held a lot of engineering and biology students. However, Galluzzo discovered his life’s passion when engaging with Dick Ferguson ’73, executive director at the time of the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community.
“He opened my eyes to community engagement and development and how it could impact my major,” Galluzzo said. “He was the one that pushed me off campus as much as possible to interact with the city.”
Galluzzo spent the summer between his junior and senior year working on campus with the Rivers Institute, developing the concept of what is now the RiverMobile. He didn’t have a job lined up for after graduation, so Ferguson urged Galluzzo to stay on campus for a few years continuing his work with the Rivers Institute as a graduate assistant.
Today, Galluzzo is the program manager for the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education (SOCHE), where his focus is on getting students off campus and into meaningful internships and co-ops. His current work is with the Air Force Institute of Technology where he brings students from around the country into the Dayton region.
“Now, the work I’m doing is very much tied into community development, so (Dick is) starting to take some pride and feeling like he has some responsibility in that, which he definitely did,” Galluzzo said.
Galluzzo said that not only would he not be involved in community engagement if it weren’t for Ferguson, but he wouldn’t be living in Dayton. As a River Steward, Galluzzo spent a lot of time teaching other students about Dayton and how to have pride in your community.
“It’s hard to sell to students why Dayton is so great and then not feel a sense of pride living in Dayton,” Galluzzo said.
Since graduating, Galluzzo’s relationship with Ferguson has changed but has not weakened. He said his family is very close with the Fergusons, and that Dick was at both his wedding and his son’s baptism. For Galluzzo, what he once saw as a mentor relationship with Ferguson has evolved into a friendship.
It is not uncommon for UD students to seek out student employment during their time on campus. Megan Burian ’15 didn’t know her employment opportunity in the office of education abroad would mean hearing fascinating stories of life’s experiences. This was the case for Burian, thanks to Patti Procuniar.
Outside of work, one of Procuniar’s hobbies is beekeeping, and Burian recalls learning about the process, asking for updates on the hives, and even indulging in some of the honey when she had a sore throat.
“She inspires me to keep learning new things and has shown me that there is always room for new hobbies and experiences in life,” Burian said of Procuniar.
The two have been able to keep in touch through email, but Burian was able to attend one of Procuniar’s “walk parties,” which include a hike and chili dinner.
“She has a beautiful piece of property,” Burian said. “I enjoyed getting to catch up with her.”
From her diverse interests in beekeeping and astrology to her proclivity for completing diligent work, Procuniar continues to inspire Burian in her everyday life.
“[Her] hard-working attitude and openness to trying new things inspire me to possess these same qualities in my life,” Burian said. “She’s an overall great person with a spark for life.”
From student worker to English as a Second Language aide, Burian has been able to carry that spark for life and continue to let it inspire her.No Comments
For 30 years, the Pioneer 10 spacecraft toward then past Jupiter, sending Earth information about what lies in and
beyond our solar system. It could only do so because of the plutonium-238 nuclear battery powering its scientific
Bernard Kokenge ’61 received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UD in 1961 and his doctorate in chemistry from Ohio University in 1966. He then began his career as a research chemist with Monsanto Research Corp. at Mound Laboratory in Miamisburg, Ohio.
He began work on improving plutonium nuclear fuels for space application and received a patent on an improved plutonium-238 fuel form in 1972. That fuel has been used in nuclear batteries for several NASA missions including the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn.
“These nuclear heat source batteries were an integral part of many spacecrafts. Think of them as an on-board electrical utility — kind of like a mini DP&L in space,” Kokenge said, refering to Dayton’s local power company.
Kokenge worked at Mound for more than 20 years in high-level management positions in charge of the research, fabrication and delivery of these nuclear heat source packages to the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA. He left in 1986 as the associate director of Mound Laboratory.
He now works as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Labor on classifying chemicals used by workers at the various U.S. government nuclear sites from the early 1940s to the
Kokenge said he appreciates the solid education he received at UD, the encouragement of its professors and the support of his wife, Joy, throughout his career.
Somewhere, an estimated 10 billion miles away, Pioneer 10 is still floating, heading out of our solar system. And inside is a capsule that holds the names of all the people, including Kokenge, involved with its mission.
Proof that a Flyer’s impact can truly be out of this world.No Comments
The bullet left a small entry wound, but when the man was turned over, I realized he was missing a large part of the back of his head — an empty void where his hair, flesh, skull and brain should have been. The force of the bullet must have been terrific. I remember the blood that poured onto the concrete when he was pulled from the pickup truck. I knew my mind was unraveling when I sat and stared at the trail of blood long after he was carried away. I do not know why this particular murder affected me so deeply because I had seen much worse. After all, it was just another discarded body from the streets of Baghdad. I was a 23-year-old platoon leader far removed from Dayton.
It was 2007, and the level of sectarian bloodletting in Iraq was beyond crisis level. The killing between Shiite and Sunni factions was accentuated with bullets, car bombs and improvised explosive devices directed at American forces. Four years had passed since the initial invasion of Iraq, and the United States was struggling to hand over control of the country to the Iraqi government. The military response at the time was a “surge” of 20,000 soldiers. I was one of those soldiers, a paratrooper with the Second Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Just a few months before, I was finishing my senior year at UD and completing the last steps to become a commissioned officer through our University’s Army R.O.T.C. program. I had entered the program a year after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Like many, I remember that day well. I was a senior in high school. My teacher turned on our classroom television, and the reception alternated between wavy black-and-white images and fully scrambled dots. Although distorted, I recognized the Twin Towers engulfed in smoke and flames. For me and for many future soldiers, it was the day Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory describes: There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in. As the smoke cleared, the day’s images, far from distorted, were played on an endless high-definition loop. I felt anger, even hatred.
When I started at UD, the United States was already fighting in Afghanistan and the case for an invasion of Iraq, with its “weapons of mass destruction,” was being built. I knew little about the history of either country but did know the talking points for why we were fighting a “global war on terrorism.” I did not spend a lot of time thinking through the justification for either conflict. It did not matter. I was ready, even eager, to fight. I was naïve.
The purpose of the troop surge was to bring U.S. soldiers together with Iraqi forces to quell the violence in Baghdad and regain control of the city. Up to this point in the war, U.S. soldiers largely lived on massive bases far removed from the battlefield. These bases, replete with gyms, cafeterias, coffee shops, convenience stores, and Pizza Huts, were small-town America dropped into the desert. With the troop surge, we moved off these bases and into accommodations side-by-side with Iraqi forces in the same neighborhoods we were charged to protect and bring order to. Only razor wire and barriers several feet wide separated us from the outside. We referred to it as the Wild West, but it felt more like an island.
Our base was an active Iraqi police station, with an Iraqi army unit next door. Inside the front door, once past the police chief’s office, was the building’s only jail cell. I never went in, but at times I would peer through the iron bars at the top of the door. The smell would always strike me first. My eyes would then slowly adjust to the darkened, dirty, bare cell. Disheveled prisoners sat on the floor with bowls of leftover food and what I can only presume was human waste.
Past the cell, through an iron door, sat an American soldier as the gatekeeper between the Iraqi and American sides of the building. Once I was past the soldier, the conference room was on my left. Inside of this room with blue peeling paint we would plan patrols and keep each other apprised of what was happening outside. The reports I heard were often horrific; I had trouble believing that God could be working in this chaos. Eventually, I stopped thinking about God altogether.
In addition to patrolling and conducting raids in our assigned area of operations, our focus was training our partnered Iraqi forces. This was a daily challenge because Iraqi forces, to completely understate the divide, operated differently than we did. Take, for example, dealing with unexploded bombs. As a general rule of thumb, American forces, unless highly trained and knowing what they are doing, do not touch them. More than once, an Iraqi police officer or soldier attempted to hand me a grenade or part of a bomb that they had taken it upon themselves to pick up off the street. By the grace of God, I am still alive.
I remember the day I realized we were fighting an unwinnable war. Shortly after arriving, our brigade conducted a massive operation to capture or kill a known bomb maker in the city. This operation involved hundreds of soldiers, with the most technologically advanced equipment available, coupled with air support and drones. Our brigade fanned out across Baghdad to find this person. Despite our impressive manpower, despite our superior equipment and despite our tactical advantages, the mission was a failure. That day I saw firsthand the absurdity of the very notion of a “global war on terrorism.” We did not have the ability to find this single bomb maker, let alone capture or kill all people in the world who use terror to impose their ideology and will upon others.
In the days and months that followed, I came face-to-face with war. The reality of war is not something to be celebrated or romanticized. There are no adequate words to describe it; cruel, brutal, evil — they all fall short. Descriptions of the human cost are the only way to begin to articulate and understand its horror. War is a young girl scarred physically and emotionally after the vehicle she is standing next to explodes; war is the remains of a young man collected in a trash bag after he trips a roadside bomb; war is mothers, fathers, daughters, sons and friends who are shot, burned, stabbed, decapitated; war is the mother of a murdered child screaming out that there is no hope.
Hope. Where did I find hope in all this? At the time, my faith was nonexistent. I was raised Methodist, but I rarely attended church. In Iraq, I felt completely separated from God. I witnessed death and tragedy, and without faith, I had no way to process it. I had to bury it within me knowing full well that such sights, sounds and memories would not stay hidden. No matter how much I wanted to, I could not dig a hole in the sand and leave all of this pain in Iraq.
After a deployment of 15 months, I returned home — and brought the pain and memories back with me. Death was part of it, but some memories hurt much more than others. A memory that haunts me is a young girl who came to the police station a short time after she was burned. She was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and near the wrong vehicle when it exploded. The scars covered most of her body and face, but I knew from her eyes that underneath it all was a beautiful child, a victim of a war she did not choose.
It was a simple request — she needed advanced medical care. I wrote several reports and pressed my superiors to intervene, but we never helped her. She came to me for help, and I failed her. She would be 18 years old now, and sometimes I wonder what became of her life. My heart wants to believe she obtained the care she needed and is thriving, but in my head I know that she is probably dead. Such memories, coupled with the knowledge of the level of depravity we are capable of inflicting upon one another, led to my struggles with depression and post-traumatic stress. Instead of turning toward God, my solution was to turn inward and try to make sense of everything for myself.
Three years after the surge, I left the military. With the passage of time, I was able to face the pain I had buried. I realized I needed a power beyond my own to heal me. UD was my first introduction to the Catholic faith. While in school, I never had an epiphanic moment where God cast a spotlight on me and I saw the light. Rather, what I remember, and what planted a seed in me, were the Marianist brothers who taught several of my classes. With these brothers, I found kind, decent men. I respected that they were highly educated and that their knowledge was compatible with their faith.
UD was also where I met my wife, Michelle. She is Catholic, and from the beginning of our relationship she held out hope that I would convert. It was not until the birth of our first child that I seriously considered the possibility. We knew that we wanted to raise our son in a single faith, and we began to explore different churches to find a compromise. We started with the Methodist Church, sought middle ground in the Lutheran Church and finally found our home in the Catholic Church. Within the Catholic Church, my heart was drawn to the traditions, to the beauty of the sacraments and to the voice of moral authority in a world of relativism and indifference toward life-and-death decisions like going to war. I will be confirmed at this year’s Easter liturgy, and already Catholicism has led me to a closer relationship with God and has helped heal my brokenness from the war.
After witnessing the horror of war while serving as a chaplain on the Western Front in the First World War, Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy penned the poem “Waste” that captures the true essence of all wars, both just and unjust:
Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,
Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth’s most precious years,
Waste of ways the Saints have trod,
Waste of Glory, waste of God,—
Waste. Why did we wreck a country with no clear plan to fix it? What did my fellow soldiers, both Americans and Iraqis, die for? I still do not know. The surge was initially viewed as a success. The level of violence and killing in Baghdad decreased, and the country moved toward stability. But the longer the war dragged on with no satisfactory end in sight, the more public opinion turned against it. Now the war itself is either forgotten or dismissed as a “mistake.” The flag-draped coffins of 4,424 U.S. service members and the lost lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are simply a “mistake.” I do not know how or why we silently acquiesced to this dismissal.
I played my part in this mistake. Ten years ago, I placed country over God and blind patriotism over truth. Today, I have discovered two truths that sustain my hope in the face of my own and my country’s brokenness. The first is that the world that Jesus walked is the same world we live in today. Both were and are violent, sinful and fallen. But God loved us enough to send his son for our redemption so that we may live a life in full communion with him. We are not so fallen that we are out of reach.
The second truth is that we participate in the body of Christ. I have always been awestruck that God became man, but before I committed to Catholicism I thought God’s physical presence ended with Jesus’ ascension into heaven. In the Catholic Church, I discovered a living, breathing presence in the people around me and within myself. With Jesus as the head, infused and energized with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church is a force for good and love in the world that will not be extinguished by any military, bullet or bomb.
Jesse Bowman is an attorney who lives in Liberty Township, Ohio, with his wife, Michelle Carroll Bowman ’06, and their two children. This essay is adapted from his article “After the Surge,” published in the Nov. 27, 2017, issue of America.1 Comment